The National Football League starts its 102nd season of existence on September 9th, when the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers square off against the Dallas Cowboys. This campaign begins on the same field it ended on last season in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. As teams prepare to open their schedules this week, all eyes are on berths to Super Bowl LVI, which will be held at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on February 13.
There are significant changes in store for the 102nd season. The league adopted a 17th regular season game and the field of teams vying for a championship seems more wide open than ever. Major offseason moves reshaped rosters and championship odds. Making NFL predictions will be as difficult as ever.
The NFL stands as the most popular sport to bet on, but the bevy picks, predictions and spreads can be difficult to digest. So here’s a breakdown of NFL predictions for this week.
The Cowboys at Buccaneers Week 1 game features a number of solid betting options, exciting players and a pair of hopeful fanbases. One team enters off their franchise’s second Super Bowl championship, while the other seeks to recapture former glory. Neither team looked particularly good this preseason, with Dallas posting an 0-4 mark. But both clubs played their starters sparingly or not at all, so there’s no too much information to glean from those records.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all signs point to another Super Bowl run. The Bucs dominated Kansas City in Super Bowl LV and start this season on their home field once again. Tampa Bay looks to become the first back-to-back champion since the New England Patriots won in 2003 and 2004. Lucky for the Bucs, Tom Brady led those clubs to victory and could do so again in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs enter as a solid favorite, especially considering their high-octane offense posted second-highest scoring output in the NFL last season. And they square off against a Dallas team whose ranked in the bottom five in points allowed. Tampa Bay achieved a rare feat in returning all 22 starters from its Super Bowl-winning squad.
Brady posted 40 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions last season. And his receiving corps of Mike Evans (70 rec, 1,006 yds, 13 TD), Chris Godwin (65 rec, 840 yds, 7 TD) and Antonio Brown (45 rec, 483 yds, 4 TD), not to mention TE Rob Gronkowski (45 rec, 623 yds, 7 TD) might be the best group in the game.
Tampa Bay might also have the league’s best front-seven. The Bucs ranked first last season in yards per carry (3.6) and rushing yards per game (80.6). They were tied for fourth in sacks (48).
The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, hope Dak Prescott looks good in his return from injury. The offense fell off last season without Prescott in the lineup, and Ezekiel Elliott could use the help. Without Prescott in the lineup, Elliott averaged just 61.5 yards per game. He posted a career-low 4.0 yards per carry and fumbled six times.
Prescott needs to reestablish a rhythm with his receivers, but they’re a solid group, too. Amari Cooper (92 rec, 1,114 yds, 5 TD), CeeDee Lamb (74 rec, 935 yds, 5 TD), and Michael Gallup (59 rec, 843 yds, 5 TD) can find room against a Tampa Bay secondary that allowed 246.6 passing yards per game (21st).
Prescott put up MVP-like numbers before his injury last season, but the team still sputtered to a 1-3 start. The Cowboys offense features several game-breakers, but there are real questions about Dallas’ defense. Week 1 signals the debut of Dan Quinn as Cowboys defensive coordinator, and he might need more time to ready his group considering the opposition.
Picks and Prediction
Tampa Bay 30, Dallas 21 (Moneyline: TB -278; Spread: TB -6.5; O/U: UNDER 51.5)
The Jaguars at Texans Week 1 matchup sports a pair of franchises hitting the reset button. Both squads hired new head coaches for the 2021 season. The Jaguars brought in former Ohio State and University of Florida coach Urban Meyer to be the sixth head coach in team history. The Texans, meanwhile, hired David Culley. Incidentally, both men will make their NFL head coaching debuts in their Week 1 matchup.
The Jacksonville Jaguars lost 15 games in a row last season, but it took two last season wins by the New York Jets in order for the Jags to secure the No. 1 overall selection in the draft. And with that pick, Jacksonville tapped Trevor Lawrence, one of the highest rated prospects in recent memory.
The Jaguars have made a concerted effort to surround their quarterback with skill position talent. Lawrence can target D.J. Chark (53 receptions, 706 yards, five TD in 2020), Marvin Jones Jr (76 rec, 978 yds, 9 TD) and Laviska Shenault (58 rec, 600 yds, 5 TD in 2020). Second-year running back James Robinson returns after gaining 1,070 yards in his rookie campaign. Robinson scored seven rushing touchdowns, as well as catching 49 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, 2021 first round draft pick, Travis Etienne is out for the season following a Lisfranc injury.
Lawrence will get to pick on a Texans passing defense that ranked 31st last season in quarterback rating (109.6) and 32nd in completion percentage (69.7). But the Texans didn’t just struggle against the pass last season. Houston’s defense allowed the most yards per carry (5.2) and the most yards per game (160.3).
The Houston Texans, meanwhile, seek to move on from the offseason drama with Deshaun Watson. Despite trade rumors swirling throughout the offseason, Watson remains on the roster, although he won’t play for Houston.
The Texans, instead, turn to veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor to captain the offense. Taylor’s tallied a 24-21-1 record as a starter. He’s amassed over 9,000 passing yards, with 54 touchdowns and 20 interceptions throughout his 10-year career. Taylor’s mobility will be a plus behind Houston’s offensive line.
Taylor likely makes Brandin Cooks his primary target this season, after the receiver’s 81-catch, 1,150-yard, six-touchdown season a year ago. But Jacksonville upgraded its defensive secondary by signing cornerback Shaquill Griffin and safety Rayshawn Jenkins.
Although Houston has won the last five games between these two teams, and holds a 25-13 advantage all-time, Jacksonville seems to have the strong team on paper at this point.
The Chargers at Washington Week 1 contest features a pair of playoff hopefuls. Washington enters coming off of the franchise’s first division title since 2015, though the 7-9 record stood as less impressive. Washington became just the three team in league history to with a division with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks and the Ron Rivera-led 2014 Carolina Panthers. Despite the losing record, the team gave ultimate Super Bowl Champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of their stiffest tests last postseason.
The Los Angeles Chargers also posted a 7-9 record last year, but missed the AFC playoffs by a considerable margin. However, Los Angeles won its final four games and saw their 2020 first round pick quarterback Justin Herbert named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year after he threw for a rookie record 31 touchdowns. After the season, Los Angeles parted ways with head coach Anthony Lynn and hired Brandon Staley to man the reins.
Herbert played well when given time last season. He’ll need to hope his revamped offensive line, with four new starters, can deal with the pressure coming from Washington. Herbert hooked up with Keenan Allen 100 times for 992 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020. Mike Williams (48 rec, 756 yds, 5 TD) and Austin Ekeler (53 rec, 403 yds, 2 TD) provide support as well. Los Angeles may have upgraded at tight end as well, considering the team added Jared Cook (37 rec, 504 yds, 7 TD).
The Washington Football Team, though, returns a dominant front seven from a year ago. The Football Team tallied 47 sacks (6th-most) and registered pressure on 25.9 percent of dropbacks (tied for eighth). Chase Young and Montez Sweat combined for 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles alone.
Washington’s defense ranked second in yards per game (304.6) and fourth in points per game (20.6). Their 23 takeaways were tied for seventh last season. The team’s pass defense ranked third overall in quarterback rating (81.4) and allowed the second fewest passing yards.
Offensively, though, Washington turns to veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick to take the helm at quarterback. After two up-and-down seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Fitzmagic hopes to make the first postseason appearance of his 16-year career. If he leads them to the playoffs, it will be Washington’s first consecutive playoff seasons since 1991 and 1992. Washington stands as the ninth different team Fitzpatrick will make at least one start for.
The receiving corps he’s throwing to is a solid one. Terry McLaurin made 87 catches for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns in 2020. The team added Curtis Samuel (77 rec, 851 yds, three TD), who should be available for Week 1.
Fitzpatrick must navigate Los Angeles’ retooled defensive secondary, which added rookie Asante Samuel Jr. and sees the return of safety Derwin James from injury. The Chargers also still have one of the league’s top pass rushers in Joey Bosa.
These two teams haven’t faced off since 2017, and considering the amount of changes from just last year, this game should prove interesting. But Washington seems to hold the slight edge since its at home and Los Angeles is coming east for a 1 PM kickoff.
Picks and Predictions
Washington 17, Los Angeles 14 (Moneyline: WAS +105; Spread: WAS +1/-110; O/U: Under 44.5/-105)
The Seahawks at Colts Week 1 game pits two teams looking to build on last season’s successes after early playoff exits. The Seahawks made the postseason for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons under Pete Carroll. They managed to keep hold of their perennial All-Pro Russell Wilson, despite grumblings of unhappiness from the quarterback. The Colts, meanwhile, suffered a disappointing Wild Card Round loss to Buffalo, and look head coach Frank Reich needs to integrate his fourth different starting quarterback in four years after the retirement of Phillip Rivers.
The Seattle Seahawks look to improve on last year’s 12–4 record and hope to win back-to-back division crowns for the first time since 2013–2014. With Wilson in tow, the offense expects to hum once again. Wilson comes off a 2020 campaign where he threw 40 touchdown passes and just 13 interceptions. He became the first quarterback in league history to throw 40 touchdowns and rush for over 500 yards in a single season. Wilson posted a 105.1 quarterback rating and looks to build on last year’s successes.
Wilson’s top targets from 2020 return this season, too. Tyler Lockett made 100 grabs for 1,054 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. D.K. Metcalf caught 83 passes for 1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns, too.
Seattle featured one of the top defenses in the league last season, and although they lost long-time Seahawks K.J. Wright in free agency, this group should be poised for another solid season. All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner returns after his 138-tackle season. The Seahawks added defensive end Kerry Hyder, who registered 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss last year, as well as cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Seattle’s defense ranked top five in both yards per carry (3.9) and yards per game (95.6).
The Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, welcome in another new quarterback after acquiring Carson Wentz via trade. The Colts hope for a better season from Wentz than his last one with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2020, Wentz threw 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, posting just a 72.8 quarterback rating. After ankle surgery sidelined him earlier this offseason, the team is optimistic he’ll start on Sunday.
But the injury limited Wentz’s time to develop chemistry with Indianapolis’ top available receivers. Zach Pascal and Michael Pittman Jr combined for 84 catches, 1,132 yards and six touchdowns last season. The Colts will be without T.Y. Hilton for the foreseeable future after his neck surgery.
Wentz will stand behind one of the better offensive lines, a group that allowed just 21 sacks last season. Injury concerns, however, cast doubt on both Eric Fischer and Quenton Nelson’s availability. The line will look to open holes for second-year running back Jonathan Taylor, who gained 1,169 yards and scored 11 touchdowns as a rookie.
Indianapolis’ defense features a pair of first-team All-Pros in DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard. The Colts also drafted defensive ends Kity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo to stabilize their defensive line.
Although both of these teams will vie for playoff spots this season, uncertainty with Indianapolis’ injury situation seems to give the Seahawks a leg up in this one despite being on the road.
Picks and Predictions
Seattle 24, Indianapolis 20 (Moneyline: SEA -125; Spread: SEA +2.5/-108; O/U: Under 48.5/-105)
The Jets at Panthers Week 1 tilt features a pair of teams breaking in new quarterbacks. Ironically, the Panthers welcome Sam Darnold into the huddle after the first three seasons of his career as New York’s starting quarterback. For the Jets, it’s a clean slate for new head coach Robert Saleh, who gets to work with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. New York may ultimately kick themselves for their two last season victories a year ago, considering that cost them the No. 1 overall draft pick and Trevor Lawrence.
The New York Jets seek a fresh start after the Adam Gase debacle. Saleh spent time this offseason building up the defense and changing the poisoned culture in New York. After a 2-14 campaign, the franchise’s second-worst season ever, the Jets needed new blood and a new direction. While some draft pundits say they reached for Wilson, making the former BYU quarterback the No. 2 overall pick in the draft did just that.
Wilson seeks to establish chemistry with Jamison Crowder, who made 59 catches for 699 yards and six touchdowns last season. New York brought in additional talent to upgrade their receiver room. The Jets added former Tennessee Titans wideout Corey Davis (65 rec, 984 yds, 5 TD) and former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Keelan Cole (55 rec, 642 yds, 5 TD).
The team hopes Alijah Vera-Tucker, their other first round pick, helps stabilize an offensive line that allowed 43 sacks (ninth-most) last season.
The Carolina Panthers pin their hopes on Darnold after a subpar 5-11 season. Darnold managed just nine touchdown and threw 11 interceptions with the Jets last year. But he steps into a Panthers offense with a pair of receivers better than anyone he had in New York. Former Jet Robby Anderson made 95 catches for 1,096 yards and three touchdowns last season. D.J. Moore added 66 catches for 1,193 yards and four touchdowns.
Darnold also gets to see All-Pro running back Christian McCaffery in the huddle as well. McCaffery returns after missing all but three games last season. These two will look to attack a Jets defense that struggled against the pass last season. New York allowed a 103.2 quarterback rating (29th) and 275.6 passing yards per game (28th). The Jets run defense allowed the seventh-lowest yards per carry (4.0) and ranked 12th in rushing yards per game (112.0).
The Jets defense welcomes back C.J. Mosley, after the linebacker opted out of last season.
The Panthers, meanwhile, look to attack New York’s offensive line with Brian Burns (nine sacks, three forced fumbles in 2020) and recent addition Haason Reddick (12,5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles). Carolina will debut No. 8 overall pick cornerback Jaycee Horn.
This game features a compelling quarterback storyline, considering Darnold’s potential revenge and Wilson’s debut, but not much else. Carolina’s defense and offensive weapons should help the Panthers prevail.
Picks and Predictions
Carolina 23, New York Jets 13 (Moneyline: CAR -200; Spread: CAR -4/-106; O/U: Over 45.5/-106)
The Vikings at Bengals Week 1 contest features two teams with a ton of questions. The Vikings missed the playoffs after a 1-5 start submarined their season. The Bengals, meanwhile, landed 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow as a franchise cornerstone, but the quarterback played in 10 games before a crippling knee injury. Cincinnati struggled throughout the season, posting their fifth consecutive losing season.
In each of the seven seasons with Mike Zimmer as their head coach, the Minnesota Vikings have alternated seasons with playoff appearances. If that pattern holds, the Vikings will make a postseason appearance in 2021. Whether or not that pattern holds depends largely upon the availability of their offensive weapons.
The Vikings sport one of the best wide receiver tandems in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Thielen hauled in 74 passes for 925 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Jefferson, meanwhile, looks to build on a rookie campaign that saw him, make 88 catches for 1,400 yards, the most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. He also scored seven touchdowns.
Minnesota also sees the return of Dalvin Cook after he ran up 1,557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in just 14 games. Cook faces a Cincinnati defense that allowed the second-highest yards per carry average last season (5.1) and fourth-highest yards per game mark (148.0).
For the Cincinnati Bengals, this game signals the return of Joe Burrow to the lineup. Last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick played well through his first 10 games before a season-ending knee injury. Burrow threw 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions and sees his former college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, enter the fray as a new offensive weapon.
Returning are his top pass catchers, Tyler Boyd (79 rec, 841 yards, four TD) and Tee Higgins (67 rec, 908 yds, six TD). But one worrisome element for Burrow will be the state of the offensive line, which, a season after surrendering 48 sacks (tied for fifth-most), made no major upgrades this offseason.
The Vikings did upgrade their defense, including adding cornerback Patrick Patterson to the defensive backfield. The team also sees the return of defensive lineman Danielle Hunter after he missed all of 2020 with a neck injury.
The Bengals added defensive end Trey Hendrickson (13.5 sacks) from New Orleans to a group that managed a league-low 17 sacks last season.
This game provides the intrigue of a returning Burrow, but little else. Minnesota’s ability to run the ball, coupled with the Bengals weakness against the run, means the Vikings should control this ball game. It doesn’t help Burrow’s prospects that Cincinnati didn’t meaningfully improve the offensive line.
Picks and Predictions
Minnesota 27, Cincinnati 20 (Moneyline: MIN -161; Spread: MIN -3.5/-104; O/U: Under 48/-105)
The Cardinals at Titans Week 1 game pits a pair of teams coming off disappointing ends to last season. Tennessee followed their previous AFC Championship game run with an upset loss in the first round of the playoffs. Arizona, meanwhile, lost out on their first playoff berth in five years on a tiebreaker. The Cardinals limped to season’s end going 2-5 after a 6-3 start.
The Arizona Cardinals want to build on the successes from early last season, with both head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray entering their third seasons. Murray comes in after a 20202 campaign that saw him rack up 26 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. In addition, Murray ran for 819 yards and scored 11 rushing touchdowns.
Murray’s top offensive weapon, DeAndre Hopkins, returns after making 115 catches, 1,407 yards and six touchdowns. Arizona also added former Cincinnati standout receiver A.J. Green. The Bengals wideout looks to follow up on a 47-catch, 523-yard, two-touchdown season.
The Cardinals also added James Conner to the backfield, but their headline offseason acquisition was signing former Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The former All-Pro registered five sacks and 14 tackles for loss, and he’ll play alongside Chandler Jones, who returns after playing just five games last season. Without those two, the Cardinals still registered 48 sacks, tied for fourth most last year.
Arizona lost corners Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick, which is particularly concerning given the Tennessee Titans added Julio Jones this offseason. The former Falcons All-Pro wideout looks to rebound from a 2020 season that saw him play just nine games and make just 51 catches for 771 yards and three touchdowns.
Jones joins a receiver room that already features a top-flight pass catcher. A.J. Brown nabbed 70 passes for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. So Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has plenty to work with, looking to build off his own impressive 33-touchdown, seven-interception season.
But the Titans offense still revolves around Derrick Henry. The first-team All-Pro running back posted 2,027 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns last season, piling up 5.4 yards per carry. Henry became just the eighth player in NFL history to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing plateau. He looks to victimize a Cardinals defense that allowed 4.6 yards per carry (25th) and 125.5 yards per game (22nd).
Tennessee hopes it shored up a leaky pass defense by adding cornerback Janoris Jenkins in free agency and cornerback Caleb Farley in the draft. The team looks to improve upon a 19-sack season (30) with the addition of linebacker Bud Dupree and defensive end Denico Autry.
This game pits a pair of playoff hopefuls, but despite Murray’s magnetic play, the Titans seem to have too many options on offense. This should be a close game, but Tennessee, at home and with an improved defense, holds the advantage.
Picks and Predictions
Tennessee 30, Arizona 24 (Moneyline: TEN -125; Spread: TEN -3/-105; O/U: Over 52.5/+100)
The 49ers at Lions Week 1 tilt features two teams going in seemingly opposite directions. The 49ers seek to rebound after an injury-plagued 2020, while Detroit hits the reset button on the franchise. The Lions have a new head coach in Dan Campbell and a new starting quarterback in Jared Goff.
The San Francisco 49ers suffered through an injury-riddled season and finished 6-10, one season after making it to the Super Bowl. San Francisco seems like a team at a crossroads though, considering they traded up to the No. 3 spot in April’s NFL Draft to select Trey Lance from North Dakota State. Incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo seems to have his days with the 49ers numbered.
Garoppolo, or Lance, should have a reliable set of pass catchers to play off of. Last season, George Kittle played just eight games but made 48 catches for 634 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers top receivers remain Brandon Aiyuk (60 rec, 748 yds, five TD) and Deebo Samuel (33 rec, 391 yds, one TD). Neither played the full season, but both flashed tons of potential.
But the 49ers hope to rely on a solid defense playing a familiar foe in Goff. San Francisco’s defense ranked fourth last season in passing yards per game (207.9) and fifth in total yards per game (314.4). But the team lost both starting cornerbacks. However, it still features All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, and will see the return of edge rusher extraordinaire Nick Bosa, who played just two games last season.
The Detroit Lions, meanwhile, made major changes in the coaching staff and at quarterback. It’ll be the first time since 2009 that Matthew Stafford doesn’t start the game for Detroit. The Lions shipped off Stafford to Los Angeles in exchange for Goff, who has one Super Bowl start under his belt. Goff looks to bounce back from an uneven 2020 when he tossed 20 touchdowns but also 13 interceptions for the Rams.
Goff will turn to tight end T.J. Hockenson as his safety blanket this season. Hockenson caught 67 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. The Lions also look to D’Andre Swift to build upon his solid rookie season. Swift rushed for 521 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and scored eight touchdowns.
Wholesale changes on the coaching staff in Detroit include new head coach Dan Campbell taking over. He’ll hope his defense improves upon its 32.4 points per game allowed average, which was worst in the league.
With so much up in the air in Detroit, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers not coming in and dominating this game.
Picks and Predictions
San Francisco 30, Detroit 13 (Moneyline: SF -303; Spread: SF -7.5/-105; O/U: Under 45.5/-104)
The Steelers at Bills Week 1 contest positions two of last season’s top AFC teams against one another. These teams occupied the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the AFC bracket in 2020, but had very different playoff experiences. After starting the season 11-0, Pittsburgh limped to a 12-4 finish and suffered blowout loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round. The Bills, meanwhile, managed their first appearance in the AFC title game since 1993.
The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t suffered through a losing season since 2003, and there’s no expectation they’ll break that 17-year run. But while they’ve been winning, the Steelers haven’t found postseason success since an AFC title game run in 2016.
There are some major questions surrounding the offensive line, which added four new players for 2021. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger enters his 18th season with a bevy of talented receivers to throw to. JuJu Smith-Schuster returns after a 97-catch, 831-yard, nine-touchdown season. Diontae Johnson added 88 catches for 923 yards and seven touchdowns. Chase Claypool looks to build on his impressive rookie campaign after 62 receptions, 873 yards and nine touchdowns. The Steelers also feature a frontline tight end in Eric Ebron.
Pittsburgh defense will look to once again get after opposing quarterbacks one season after leading the league in sacks (56). The Steelers pass rush also led the NFL in pressure percentage (35.1) and surrendered the third-fewest passing yards per game (194.4). T.J. Watt earned a first-team All-Pro berth after pacing the league with 15 sacks. The team also gets back Devin Bush after just five games last season. The Steelers did lose Bud Dupree in free agency though.
They’ll attack a high-level Buffalo Bills offense led by Josh Allen. The Pro Bowl quarterback threw 37 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions last season, and added another eight TDs on the ground. Buffalo’s receiving corps features Stefon Diggs (127 rec, 1,535 yds, 8 TD), Cole Beasley (82 rec, 967 yds, 4 TD), and Gabriel Davis (35 rec, 599 yds, 7 TD). The team added former Saints wideout Emmanuel Sanders (61 rec, 726 yds, 5 TD) to the mix as well.
Buffalo brings back its entire starting secondary, which was solid throughout last season. But the Bills need to improve on their run defense, which allowed 4.6 yards per carry (26th) last season. The team was middle of the pack in rushing yards per game (119.6, 17th). They’ll content with Pittsburgh’s first round pick, running back Najee Harris from Alabama.
The Steelers limited Allen’s effectiveness in their Week 14 matchup last season. Although the Bills won that ballgame, Allen completed just 24-of-43 passes for 238 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
This compelling matchup could come down to which team makes a mistake first, but questions about Roethlisberger’s effectiveness still linger. The Bills defense should put pressure on Big Ben and force Pittsburgh into a one-dimensional game.
The Eagles at Falcons Week 1 matchup pits a pair of teams with first-time head coaches against one another. Gone from Philadelphia are Super Bowl winners Doug Peterson and quarterback Carson Wentz, while Super Bowl loser Dan Quinn is long gone from Atlanta. Neither of these teams hold title aspirations this season, but both hope for a postseason run.
The Philadelphia Eagles have moved on from Peterson and Wentz. The writing was on the wall once the team drafted Jalen Hurts, and after a terrible tanking episode late last season, the changes were necessary. Those changes started when Jalen Hurts took over at quarterback. The Eagles went 1-3 with Hurts as a starter, but it was necessary experience for the young signal caller.
Hurts threw for 1,061 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions last season. He ran for 354 yards and three touchdowns as well. His mobility will help considering Philadelphia’s struggles to protect their quarterbacks last season. The Eagles offensive line surrendered 65 sacks, most in the league. The team will see the return of Brandon Brooks and spent a second-round pick on Landon Dickerson to upgrade the o-line.
Philadelphia added a major offensive weapon for Hurts in the draft with the selection of DeVonta Smith with the 10th overall pick. Hurts will look to pick apart an Atlanta secondary that allowed the most passing yards per game (293.6) a year ago.
The Atlanta Falcons enter this contest with Matt Ryan under center, but without Julio Jones for the first time since 2010. Ryan was solid last season (26 TD, 11 INT) and has a suitable replacement for Jones. Calvin Ridley steps into the WR1 void after making 90 catches for 1,364 yards and nine touchdowns last season. The Falcons also have Russell Gage (72 rec, 786 yds, 4 TD).
The headliner for Atlanta’s offseason, though, was drafting University of Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall selection. He’s the odds-on favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
But the Falcons offensive line, which lost starting center Alex Mack, must deal with an elite pass-rushing group from Philadelphia. The Eagles ranked third in sacks (49) and fourth in pressure percentage (27.9). They added Ryan Kerrigan to that group in the offseason.
Picks and Predictions
Philadelphia 24, Atlanta 21 (Moneyline: PHL +170; Spread: ATL -3.5/-104; O/U: Under 47/+100)
Browns at Chiefs Picks and Predictions
When: Sunday, September 12, 4:25pm
Where: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
The Browns at Chiefs Week 1 game is a rematch of the divisional-round playoff game this past January, which saw the Chiefs prevail by a score of 22-17. The Browns made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and won a playoff game for the first time since 1994. First-year head coach Kevin Stefanski led them to the team’s first 11-win campaign since that 1994 season. Cleveland hopes to make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 1988 and 1989. The Chiefs won the AFC last season, but fell flat with 31-9 loss at Super Bowl LV.
The Cleveland Browns enter with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Although the offensive skill talent takes most of the headlines, Cleveland’s defense should be much improved in 2021. The team added Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, Takk McKinley, as well as defensive backs John Johnson and Troy Hill. The Browns also spent their first-round pick on cornerback Greg Newsome II. These players should all provide incumbent defensive stalwart, Myles Garrett, with plenty of support after his 12-sack season.
Offensively, the Browns should still focus on the ground game, despite their talented receivers. Cleveland sports arguably the best running back tandem in the league. Last season, Nick Chubb gained 1,067 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, getting 5.6 yards per carry. Kareem Hunt, meanwhile, added 841 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
The Browns should look to establish the run against a Kansas City rush defense that ranked 17th in yards per carry (4.5) and 21st in yards per game (122.1).
If Cleveland can get the ground game going, quarterback Baker Mayfield will be at his best. Mayfield threw 26 touchdowns to just eight interceptions last season, and works well with play-action. He’ll have Jarvis Landry (72 rec, 840 yds, three TD) and a returning Odell Beckham Jr (23 rec, 319 yds, three TD in seven games).
The Kansas City Chiefs, meanwhile, look for another Super Bowl win with Patrick Mahomes under center. Mahomes threw 38 touchdowns and just six interceptions last season, but seemed mortal in the Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. In that game, Mahomes ran for his life, losing by more than eight points for the first time in his career.
To remedy that weakness, Kanas City traded for tackle Orlando Brown, signed guard Joe Thuney, and drafted center Creed Humphrey in the second round of April’s draft. They’ll have to contend with Cleveland’s pass rush to give Mahomes time to find his top-flight skill weapons.
Last season, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce caught 105 passes for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tyreek Hill made 87 grabs for 1,276 yards and 15 touchdowns.
This game could very well be an AFC Championship game preview. The Chiefs tend to start their seasons fast, and with a retooled offensive line and the home field, they hold a slight advantage in this one.
Picks and Predictions
Kansas City 34, Cleveland 31 (Moneyline: KC -250; Spread: CLE +6/-104; O/U: Over 52.5/-109)
The Packers at Saints Week 1 tilt relocated from New Orleans as the city continues to recover from Hurricane Ida. Although the Saints hoped to play the game in Dallas, where they set up temporary shop after evacuating Louisiana last week, a concert at AT&T Stadium forced this game to Jacksonville instead. And as the Saints deal with the fallout of the natural disaster, they do so without their long-time quarterback Drew Brees, who retired. The Packers, meanwhile, almost lost their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but managed to sort things out with the defending league MVP. For now.
The Green Bay Packers almost turned to second-year quarterback Jordan Love this season after philosophical differences between Rodgers and the front office. History almost repeated itself after the team’s messy divorce from Brett Favre in 2008. Green Bay also almost lost running back Aaron Jones in free agency, but the team managed to get all their major offensive pieces back for another title run.
The Packers hope Rodgers can recapture that MVP form from a season ago. Rodgers threw 48 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. He found Davante Adams for a league-leading 18 touchdowns. Adams made 115 grabs for 1,374 yards total. The Packers passing attack also features Marquez Valdes-Scantling (63 rec, 690 yds, 6 TD) and tight end Robert Tonyan (52 rec, 586 yds, 11 TD).
Jones looks to build upon his solid season as well. Jones tallied 1,104 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, gaining 5.5 yards per carry last season. But the Saints run defense was among the best in the league. New Orleans allowed just 3.9 yards per carry (4th) and 93.9 yards per game (4th) a year ago.
It’s a new beginning for the New Orleans Saints, though. The team will be without Drew Brees for the first time since 2005, and they turn to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston, who’s thrown 121 touchdown passes and 88 interceptions in his career. Beyond the new quarterback concerns, there are real questions in the passing game at wide receiver.
The Saints will need a big performance from Alvin Kamara. After rushing for 932 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, Kamara will also need to replicate his receiving numbers of 83 catches, 756 yards and five touchdowns to keep this competitive.
Green Bay’s pass defense ranked seventh in yards per game (221.2) and tied for 10th with 41 sacks. All four starters return from a solid secondary, as does top pass rusher Za’Darius Smith (12.5 sacks).
The Packers put up the most points per game last season (31.8), but New Orleans’ defense should provide a stout test. The Saints ranked eighth in sacks (45) and sixth in pressure percentage (26.3), but Green Bay’s offensive line gave up just 21 sacks last season (second-fewest).
Without the home crowd to egg them on, it’s hard to see a displaced Saints squad getting this victory, especially considering the questions in the passing game.
Picks and Predictions
Green Bay 28, New Orleans 13 (Moneyline: GB +120; Spread: GB -4/+108; O/U: Under 49.5/-104)
The Broncos at Giants Week 1 matchup sports a pair of sub-.500 teams from a year ago. Both of these squads seem stuck in a perpetual rebuild, neither of which with a postseason appearance in five years. The Giants last made the playoffs in 2016, and have won playoff game since winning the Super Bowl in 2011. The Broncos also haven’t won a playoff game since their last Super Bowl title, which came in 2015.
The Denver Broncos turn to new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, despite spending a second-round pick on Drew Lock in 2019. The move signals a lack of faith in Lock, who threw 15 interceptions and fumbled eight times last season. Bridgewater threw 11 interceptions a year ago.
Bridgewater has an intriguing group of young receivers. Jerry Jeudy caught 52 passes for 856 yards and three touchdowns. Tim Patrick made 51 catches for 742 yards and six touchdowns. The team also sees the return for Courtland Sutton, who played just one game after an ACL tear. Tight end Noah Fant made 62 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns.
The Broncos will also see the return of Von Miller and he missed all of 2020. The team struggled against the run a year ago, allowing 130 yards per game (25th) and 4.8 yards per carry (29th), but Miller can help there. The team did upgrade its defensive secondary, with first-round pick Patrick Surtain II and free agent additions Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller.
The headline return in this game, though, comes with the New York Giants. Saquon Barkley returns after playing two games thanks to his own ACL tear. The Giants hope Barkley can relieve the pressure upon third-year quarterback Daniel Jones, who regressed after a solid rookie campaign in 2019.
New York brough in Kenny Golladay and drafted Kadarius Toney to help Jones with quality receivers. But they need to provide Jones with enough time to find them. The offensive line surrendered 50 sacks last season, tied for second-most. And Denver sports a pair of elite pass rushers in Miller and Bradley Chubb.
The Giants defense was stout against the run, allowing just 4.1 yards per carry (8th) and 111.4 yards per game (10th). They’ll look to slow down Melvin Gordon, gets a look as the feature back in Denver.
This game seems like it will turn on the effectiveness of Barkley and the Giants run game. Otherwise, Denver could be in control with the steadier quarterback and more offensive weapons.
Picks and Predictions
Denver 20, New York 13 (Moneyline: DEN -120; Spread: DEN -1.5/-104; O/U: Under 42.5/-109)
The Dolphins at Patriots Week 1 contest features the last two starting quarterbacks for the University of Alabama. The Dolphins have turned the franchise over to Tua Tagovailoa and feel poised for a postseason run after going 10-6 last season. New England missed the playoffs too after watching Tom Brady walk in free agency. This game is one of two divisional matchups in Week 1.
The Miami Dolphins enter the 2021 season ready to take the next step with Tagovailoa and head coach Brian Flores. The team surrounded their young quarterback with speedy receivers, including first round pick Jaylen Waddle. Free agent addition Will Fuller won’t be available, though, as he finishes a suspension.
Tagovailoa can target DeVante Parker (63 rec, 793 yds, 4 TD) and Mike Gesicki (53 rec, 703 yds, 6 TD). Parker and the other receivers in Miami know they won’t have to deal with Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who’s out for six weeks.
Miami’s defense, meanwhile, added first round pick Jaelan Phillips to a formidable front seven last year. The Dolphins defense ranked sixth in quarterback rating (87.0), seventh in completion percentage (62.9), and tenth in sacks (41). The team hopes to improve upon their middle-of-the-pack run defense, which allowed 4.5 yards per carry (18th) and 116.4 yards per game (16th).
The New England Patriots, meanwhile, start the Mac Jones era. The team cut veteran quarterback Cam Netwon and almost completely revamped the offense. The Patriots added wide receivers Nelson Agholor (48 rec, 896 yds, 8 TD) and Kendrick Bourne (49 rec, 667 yds, 2 TD). Damien Harris will take over as the team’s lead running back after his 691-yard season a year ago.
The Patriots also retooled their defense, bringing back former Patriots (and one-time Dolphin) Kyle Van Noy. New England signed Matthew Judon away from the Baltimore Ravens and will welcome back Dont’a Hightower after he opted out of 2020.
The biggest questions in this ball game swirl around the young quarterbacks. How will Tagovailoa fare as the frontline starter? How will Jones do against Flores’ stout defense? Both of these clubs look to make a playoff run behind their young quarterbacks.
Picks and Predictions
Miami 21, New England 20 (Moneyline: MIA +140; Spread: MIA +2.5/+105; O/U: Under 43/-105)
The Bears at Rams Week 1 game sees fans finally welcomed in to the new SoFi Stadium. Los Angeles hopes to make another Super Bowl run, albeit with a new quarterback. The Bears also have new quarterbacks, but it’ll be the veteran Andy Dalton getting the Week 1 start rather than rookie Justin Fields.
The Chicago Bears look to build upon last year’s playoff appearance, the second such berth in three years under head coach Matt Nagy. But it’s been more than 10 years since the last playoff victory for the Bears, and Dalton seems like a step back at quarterback. The 10-year veteran went 4-5 with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season while with the Dallas Cowboys.
Dalton’s just keep the seat warm for Fields, but in the meantime, he has Allen Robinson to throw to. Robinson made 102 catches for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns last season. The Bears are hopeful second-year wide receiver Darnell Mooney can build upon his 61-catch, 631-yard, four-touchdown rookie campaign. But if Dalton will have success, it’s because the running game works with David Montgomery. Chicago’s lead back gained 1,070 yards, with 4.3 yards per carry, and scored eight touchdowns last season.
The Los Angeles Rams, though, have their sights set on the Super Bowl. The Rams return one of the top defensive units from a year ago, although they lost defensive backs Troy Hill and John Johnson. Jalen Ramsey’s still there though, as is All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
Donald led a pass rush that ranked second in the league in total sacks (53) and fifth in pressure percentage (23.4). Los Angeles’ run defense was also stout. The Rams ranked third in both yards per carry (3.8) and yards per game (91.3).
And the Rams welcome in their own new veteran quarterback in Matthew Stafford. The team traded Jared Goff to Detroit and feel Stafford’s veteran moxie can lead them back to the Super Bowl. Stafford will throw to a dynamic receiver paring in Cooper Kupp (92 rec. 974 yds, 3 TD) and Robert Woods (90 rec, 936 yds, 6 TD).
The Rams should be able to pressure Dalton, given the average nature of Chicago’s offensive line. And even if Nagy switches to the more mobile Fields, both Bears quarterbacks are likely to struggle in this one.
Picks and Predictions
Los Angeles Rams 27, Chicago 10 (Moneyline: LAR -303; Spread: LAR -7.5/+100; O/U: Under 44/-105)
The Ravens at Raiders Week 1 tilt stands as the league’s first Monday Night contest of the year and it pits two teams searching for playoff success. The Ravens rallied to reach the playoffs for a third straight year, but lost in the second round. Las Vegas, meanwhile, looked like a playoff team for parts of 2020, but a late season collapse kept the Raiders from the postseason.
The Baltimore Ravens won a playoff game for the first time since 2014 and seem poised for another postseason run this season. The team retooled its offensive line, bringing in three new starters, but will still look to run the ball regularly. The Ravens led the league with 191.9 rushing yards per game last season and posted over 3,000 total rushing yards.
Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons after piling up 1,005 yards a year ago. He was no slouch throwing the ball either, connecting on 26 touchdown passes to just nine interceptions. Gus Edwards looks to build on his solid season running the ball. He gained 5.0 yards per carry and totaled 723 yards and six touchdowns on the season.
Although Baltimore threw the ball the fewest times in the league last year, Jackson still has reliable receivers. Tight end Mark Andrews made 58 catches for 701 years and seven touchdowns. Second-year wideout Marquise Brown looks to improve upon his rookie numbers of 58 receptions, 769 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Ravens defense features two of the top cornerbacks in the league in Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, but lost two of their top pass rushers in free agency. Matthew Judon left for New England, while Yannick Ngakoue went to Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Raiders hope to finally breakthrough to the postseason this year, and they need quarterback Derek Carr to play well for that to happen. Carr threw 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. His favorite target Darren Waller returns after a 107-catch, 1,196-yard, nine-touchdown season. But Carr lost his top wideout, Nelson Agholor to free agency.
The Raiders hope second-year receiver Henry Ruggs III came take a step forward after a rookie year where he caught 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns. Las Vegas did add another former Raven, Willie Snead, in free agency.
Las Vegas looks to attack a vulnerable Ravens run defense (4.6 yards per carry, 22nd in 2020) with Josh Jacobs and free agent Kenyan Drake. Jacobs ran for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, while Drake went for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns for Arizona a year ago.
The Raiders hope to have an improved defense that struggled to pressure the quarterback last season. Las Vegas ranked 29th in sacks (21) and 26th in passing yards per game (263.3). The team added cornerback Casey Heyward and edge rusher Ngakoue to help there. But there’s real fear that the run defense, which gave up 4.6 yards per carry (24th) and 125.8 yards per game (24th) didn’t improve enough.
If their new offensive line holds up, the Ravens should be able to leverage their strength in running the ball against Las Vegas’ weakness of stopping the run.
Picks and Predictions
Baltimore 27, Las Vegas 23
(Moneyline: BAL -189; Spread: LVR +4.5/-110; O/U: Under 51/-105)